StarDrive ReviewGuest_Jim_* - May 9, 2013
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I'm going to use a different structure for the review this time, as the structure of a 4X game is so different from that of the shooters I have reviewed in the past. Like many other games, if not all games, in the genre, the first step to starting a new game is selecting who you play as. In this game, different races have different characteristics and abilities, such as high fertility to increase population growth, or honesty to decrease espionage effectiveness. They also have very different appearances and histories, from samurai space bears (Kulrathi) to molluscs (the Cordrazine) that have enslaved the Owlwok race.
If you like the look of one but the characteristics of another do not worry, the characteristics are not rigidly assigned to the portraits. You are given eight points to assign to these characteristics, with positive characteristics costing points and negative characteristics offsetting those costs. Of course if you change the characteristics, the description of the race will no longer apply.
Take some time to read what the different perks are because some can be very powerful. For example, I like combining the 'Cybernetic' and 'Astronomer' characteristics, which replaces the need for food with a need for production and gives you information on numerous systems at the beginning of the game, instead of having to scout the planets out. The 'Cybernetic' perk costs the full eight points, and rightly so as it enables very strong economies throughout a game, while 'Astronomer' lets you get a jump on colonization, the next section of the review.
Colonization is easily one of the most important parts of any 4X game as misplaced colonies can cost you valuable resources. To help the player best expand their empire, StarDrive has two features not always found in similar games. One of these is a screen to view every known planet, and sort them by name, fertility, richness, and population (all factors important to optimizing resource use) and the other is a one-button colonizing solution. Instead of having to manually trigger the construction of a colonizing ship and then order the unit to the planet, you can press the 'Colonize' button next to the planet on the planet list. Until you cancel the colonization order or colonize the planet, a shipyard in your empire will continue to produce colonizing ships and send them to that and any other planet you have selected.
Once a planet is colonized you are able to set what resource, food, production, and research, the population should focus on. Food is needed for the population to survive and grow; production is what allows the colony to add buildings and generate money; and research just adds to the empire's research point pool. Early on it is possible that one of these resources is stuck at zero or in the red, but you actually may not need to worry about this.
A curious addition to colony management is the ability to select where buildings are constructed on a planet's surface. What is curious about this is that there is no apparent reason to put them anywhere specific. It is not as though research facilities placed next to each other will perform better. Perhaps the function is just there for those micromanagers who have a specific design for their colonies.
One of the ship classes you are able to build when the game begins is the freighter, and you can set these to transport food and production from planets with excess to those in need. If you would rather not be concerned with managing a fleet of freighters, you can set the AI to do it, and it will also build new freighters as needed. As you research the larger freighters though, you will have to tell the AI to use them; it will not switch to the larger ships on its own.
Another task you can give the AI is to build 'Subspace Projectors' between your systems. These allow your ships to cross the galaxy faster and without using up their power reserves. No movement within your own territory costs energy. One annoyance about these projectors though is that there is no easy way to build them yourself, and at times you will want to. The AI appears to only want to build them from one system to those nearest it, so if there are systems between two of your planets, projectors will not be automatically placed between them. Manually placing them throughout the galaxy though is not particularly difficult, it is just not as intelligently implemented as it could be. By this I mean I would like to have the ability to simply select the two systems I want to connect and then have the optimal placement of projectors filled in.
If you would rather not micromanage your colonies, you can put governors in charge and simply tell them what to focus on with a dropdown box. Leaving your mouse over the selection will tell you what it means.
Occasionally the planets you colonize and find have anomalies on them, such as remnants from previous civilizations. Landing and producing troops on the planet allow you to explore these anomalies and either find a powerful artifact that affects your stats or releases a horde of dangerous aliens. Sometimes both.
I can easily say I enjoy these tools the developers have created. With them you can effectively run your empire almost without looking at the gameworld itself. From the planet list you can jump to the Empire view, which allows you to manage the resources of every planet you control and is just a double-click away from the colony overview window. The only reason you need to visit the home screen at this time is to set the AI controls or issue orders to ships. Of course once you find your first opponent, things change.